By Alison Steedman
“Go for it!” he said. “Flirting is fun. It feels great.”
We were talking about how I have felt vaguely awkward around other men since being in a committed relationship (um, years now). My problems, as described to said husband, were as follows:
I didn’t want to lead anyone on. I’m no femme fatale, but I’d learned to be a pretty effective flirt after some trial and error. (For me, this generally meant making a well-placed Star Wars reference. Know your audience!)
I didn’t want to confuse myself. I feared that I wouldn’t know how to flirt platonically. And since my current relationship is the only one I’ve had of any length, I’d had no experience with infidelity or even the temptation of it. I didn’t know if flirting would lead to more. In my prior experience, that had been kind of The Point.
Wasn’t it wrong? Wasn’t I supposed to be a one-man kind of woman? Wasn’t flirting, or more specifically, getting that little thrill that reciprocal flirting provides, a kind of infidelity unto itself?
In short, my husband told me, no.
“What’s the difference between flirting and a really great conversation?” he asked me.
“Um, ideally, nothing,” I said.
“Right,” he said, “And don’t you want to have great conversations with other people?”
“Yes,” I said decisively. “But when you’re flirting non-platonically, you kind of want the conversation to, you know, go somewhere, eventually,” I said, because I am a prude.
“Do you want to ‘go somewhere’ with anyone else?” he asked.
“Nope,” I said. “I do not!”
“Well there you go.”
He had me. I would have to come clean.
“But,” I said, “I still get…you know…that thrill. When a conversation is going that well.”
“So what?” he asked.
This seemed like a good point. We’d already covered that I didn’t want to sleep with anyone else. I finally asked him if he felt the same way about getting that jolt of excitement when a conversation is going really well.
“Of course!” he said. “I like it. Everyone likes it. You should flirt with other people because you like it and they’ll like it, too, and everyone feels good and happy, and it means that your friends are interesting, exciting, attractive people.”
“And they think I’m interesting and attractive, too?” I asked, because I am a sucker.
“Absolutely,” he said, because he is a mensch.
This was, needless to say, a revelation. Noted fashion kook Tyra Banks once said, on a Very Special episode of ANTM, that she was fine with whatever her man did as long as, at the end of the night, he went home with her. That had sounded weirdly permissive to me at the time, but perhaps I was taking it too literally. Perhaps she just meant basically what my husband was telling me. It’s no sin to have a good time. Especially not talking, for the love of Pete. (Or whatever your partner’s name is. Mine’s not actually named Pete.)
If you know where your heart is, it’s not that hard to have a scintillating conversation, get flirty, enjoy the thrill of it, and then go home with your partner. The tension sparked by that process does not have to be sexual, or it doesn’t have to be specific to the person you’re talking with. Often, it even makes you want to go home with your partner more.
As for leading people on, that’s a tricky topic, worthy of its own post. There’s room for confusion in any conversation, flirting or otherwise. I take comfort in the ring on my finger and the fact that, at this point, most people know I’m taken. But if you buy into the idea that flirting is really just fun conversation, sometimes you have to just learn to relax into it and not worry too much. As long as you’re not doing this, you’re probably fine.